"An Important Year for Gender and Development"

International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics

It is a pleasure to address the Women’s International Forum this afternoon. I thank the President of the Forum, Sahar Baassiri Salam, for her kind introduction, and the previous President, Nareumon Sinhaseni, for extending the original invitation to me.

We are at the beginning of a very important year for gender equality and women’s empowerment. This year marks important milestones on two landmark, global agendas on gender equality: the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the fifteenth anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security. The UN will review progress on implementing both agendas this year.

As well, in September, the General Assembly is due to adopt a new sustainable development agenda, replacing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which run their course at the end of this year. Gender equality and women’s empowerment will be crucial to achieving this new agenda, as they were for making progress on the MDGs.

These are issues of great personal importance to me. I consider myself fortunate to have been born into the post-war baby boom generation in New Zealand, where the doors of education, health care, and opportunity were wide open to me, and where, as a woman, I was able to pursue a career of my choice, and meet my professional aspirations.

That is not to say that the road was always easy. Having been the first woman elected as Prime Minister of my country, and before that the first to hold the position of Leader of the Opposition, I am very well acquainted with the challenges which women face when entering hitherto male-dominated domains. Making the path to leadership easier for other women across all sectors is a top priority for me.

I believe it is important for women who do reach the top despite the odds to help build an overall environment in which all women can thrive. For me in New Zealand, that meant leading a government which opened up choices for women through policies like free early childhood care and education for twenty hours each week – creating opportunity for children, and also for women to have a genuine choice to enter the paid workforce if they wished; entitlement to paid parental leave when babies were born; expanded annual leave; and more financial support for tertiary education – on average women earn less across their lifetimes than do men, which means that student debt can be particularly burdensome for women. My government tackled that by providing “no interest” student loans for all students who stayed in New Zealand.

In my remarks today, I will comment further on why gender equality and women’s empowerment matter, and highlight progress made and challenges remaining. I will share some examples of how UNDP integrates gender equality and women’s empowerment into its work. I will conclude with a few reflections on the process now underway towards the new, post-2015 sustainable development agenda and the importance of prioritizing gender in that agenda.